Wild ARMs 2 - Reader Re-Retroview  

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

20-40 Hours
+ Can skip some encounters.
+ Some decent puzzles.
+ Great soundtrack.
- Battle system can easily be broken/unbalanced.
- Translation is poor at points.
- Graphics are rough at times.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   A terrorist organization known as Odessa is trying to conquer the world, and in response, a counterterrorist group known as ARMS (Agile Remote Mission Squad) is formed to combat them, with three individuals, a young musketeer named Ashley Winchester, a sorceress in training named Lilka Eleniak, and a war hero turned convict named Brad Evans, becoming its most prominent members. Wild ARMs 2, developed by Contrail and Media Vision and published by Sony in North America in 2000, was the franchise's first sequel on the Playstation, sporting many changes from its predecessor, some for the better, and some for the worse.

   As in the first game, enemies are randomly encountered, although the sequel has an interesting twist on this system where three different colors of bubbles appear above the active character's head. Red bubbles indicate that an encounter is forced, while white bubbles indicate that the player can avoid the encounter. After a certain sidequest involving a monster album detailing encountered enemies, green bubbles will start appearing above the active character, indicating that the encounter has enemies the player hasn't seen yet, and which too the player can skip. One thing to note is that it's never explicitly stated in the game or instruction book what determines the frequency of red bubbles (which seem to be the most common), although it could have to do with levels or the luck stat.

   Encounter system aside, combat itself follows generally the same setup as the first game, albeit with some changes. Before a round, for instance, the player can change the active party of up to three characters once more than that number have been acquired, and adjust equipment, along with attempting to escape if desired. Characters have a number of commands, such as normally attacking, defending, using an item, using an equipped Guardian's special ability, or using a unique Force command. This time, Force Points completely substitute Magic Points, with each character having a default amount based on their current levels at the start of battle.

Obviously changed before the official release He likes them young

   Each character has unique abilities, such as Ashley and Brad's ARMs (Ancient Relic Machines) that consume bullets, with each of their stats, attack power, accuracy, and bullet capacity, upgradeable at special facilities, with a maximum of ten irreversible upgrades per ARM. Other unique abilities include Lilka and Tim's magic, the former learned by using Crests at special facilities and the latter gradually learned by equipping Guardians and killing enemies (though the game and instruction book don't explicitly state this). Finally, Kanon has special physical abilities, with upper-level ones acquired by repeatedly using lower-level ones, and Marivel has blue magic-esque abilities that she can "absorb" from various types of enemies, although learning both involves a heavy degree of randomization.

   Using all these special abilities requires a character's Force Points to be at a certain level, in which case they can be used infinitely (although ARMs can run out of bullets, refillable at ARMs shops). Each character can also acquire up to four special Force abilities that reduce FP levels when used, such as Ashley's Accelerate, which guarantees him the first turn in a round; Brad's Lock-On, which maximizes the accuracy of his ARMs; and Lilka's Mystic, which extends an item's effect to the whole party; FP increases as characters are attacked or attack physically.

   Whenever a character levels up, he/she gains a Personal Skill point that the player can invest into various Personal Skills at special facilities for innate effects such as increased maximum HP gain after leveling, increased attack/magic power and defense, heightened resistance against status ailments, and so forth. As with ARMs upgrades, distribution of Personal Skill Points is irreversible, but another problem here is that some of these abilities, if combined right, can somewhat shatter the game's balance. For instance, one Personal Skill restores HP whenever a character's FP goes up, and if the player combines this with increased physical and magical defense, foes could actually end up healing the player's characters with their attacks.

   The trouble with each character's special abilities in combat, moreover, is that many of them are basically free heals and attacks, with Tim, for instance, able to acquire a spell that heals the party for a decent amount, and always goes first in a round (not that this is a bad thing, as wasted healing items/spells are one of this reviewer's biggest complaints with traditional turn-based battle systems). When combined with a strategic investment of Personal Skill Points, death can be at best a rarity, although if it does happen, the player can consume Gimel Coins, also mildly rare, to restart the lost battle.

Sans the rain Kickin' butt in the rain

   Granted, the sequel does certainly make a few nods towards difficulty, such as more status ailments than usual for an RPG, like Disease, which nullifies the effects of healing magic, and Downhearted, which significantly reduces Force Point gain. Enemies, moreover, donít seem to decide their commands until they reach their turns, so if the player revives a dead character, monsters can kill that character again in the same round. Instant death spells can also serve as cheap shots, with maximized Personal Skill resistance against this and other ailments not guaranteeing total immunity. All in all, the battle system is by no means bad, although it could have definitely been better balanced.

   The interface is also by no means bad, with easy shopping, character management, and controls, although there are a few imperfections. For instance, the overworld system is vastly different from that in many other RPGs, with the player having to "search" for towns and dungeons to make them appear, which is somewhat silly since in reality they would be visible from miles away. This isn't a bad system (and the player ultimately gains a radar that shows the locations of hidden towns, dungeons, and items), although it can create some problems since the player can't uncover some towns and dungeons unless they talk with specific NPCs, and while the player can "call" Valeria Chateau to confirm where on the overworld certain towns and dungeons are (and how to advance the main storyline, at that, also not a bad thing), failing to talk to certain characters at times can easily leave players stranded for a while.

   All towns and dungeons in the sequel, furthermore, are in three dimensions, with a rotatable camera, as well, and advancing through the latter typically requiring an arsenal of tools each character can acquire throughout the game. Puzzles also show up occasionally, which are okay, although the clues for some don't make much sense, given the mediocre translation, and a select few can be tedious without a guide. Save points are often poorly-placed as well, typically coming in the middle of dungeons and not right before bosses, as they should. The design of a select few dungeons, moreover, is also convoluted, and maps for them would have been welcome. Overall, interaction, like combat, isn't bad, but could have certainly been better.

   Being a sequel, Wild ARMs 2 naturally derives some elements from its predecessor, such as the western-esque world of Filgaia (which, as with before, is something of an afterthought), and the Force Points system, albeit with a different take. There are also some new features such as the encounter cancel, overworld search, and Personal Skill systems, and the story doesn't rip off of Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals like the original. Overall, the sequel demonstrates far more creativity than its predecessor with various conventions that would influence its successors.

Heh...hurl Ashley vomits up a new tool

   The story has strong potential and many things going for it, such as reasonably-lengthy scenes, adequate pacing, many characters that have some sort of background, and a nice twist on Disc Two, but its execution leaves something to desire. Most of the villains, for one, come across as paper-thin, with some areas of the plot's advancement seeming redundant, as well. The biggest shortcoming of the story, however, is the weak localization, with endless words such as "hero" and various pronouns put into quotation marks to no avail, some odd metaphors and expressions, and so forth. It is possible to understand the basic message of what characters are trying to say, but the script wasn't adapted very well for the Anglophone world, and while the general story is still one of the better ones of the franchise, the weak writing definitely hampers it.

   The music, by Michiko Naruke, is probably the sequel's strongest aspect, with some nice western-themed pieces and other solid tracks. There are also a few theme songs that were vocalized in the Japanese version, although the lyrics were replaced with instruments in the North American release, with the instrumental versions actually having more of a western feel than the original versions. The sound effects are also more than adequate, no longer sounding as though they came from the Atari 2600 like in the first game. There are some minor glitches with the music at times, although the aurals are still the sequel's high point.

   The graphics aren't as solid, but are still half-decent and a definite step above those in the first game. Anime cutscenes play whenever the player loads and quits the game (with different ones for each of the two discs), somewhat giving the illusion of watching a television show. Field graphics consist of two-dimensional sprites on three-dimensional fields, with the sprites showing some pixelation during cutscenes when the camera zooms in on them, although playing the game on the Playstation 2 with smooth texturing somewhat reduces this. Battle graphics are fully three-dimensional, and while they contain some degree of shakiness, choppiness, and pixelation, characters there no longer have a Bomberman-esque appearance, and few monsters are palette swaps. Some of the field scenery is a little bland, as well, and while the visuals could have been more polished in places, they do have plenty of strong points.

   Finally, the sequel is about thirty hours long, with a few sidequests here and there to boost playing time. All in all, Wild ARMs 2 has been considered something of a dark horse in the franchise, and rightfully so, given things like an unbalanced, easily-broken battle system, and a weak localization. It's not nearly as horrendous as some have made it out to be, given its share of redeeming aspects, although there are certainly better games in and out of the franchise. Even so, the sequel is still a critical juncture in the franchise, given the introduction of certain elements that would influence its successors, and as its predecessor received a remake, the second is very much deserving of one, as well.

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